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Appetising ingredients for innovation

01 July 2009

Innovation is seen by many as the key to unlocking the full potential of food and drink companies but accessing the knowledge and support needed for developing new products can be a challenge

The spark and ideas for an organisation to innovate may not exist within, so the alternative is to source outside help. Now a new initiative called Appetising Innovation has been launched which can help the food and drink sector develop products and packaging to ensure they remain competitive and win market share – vital in today’s challenging economic climate.

Appetising Innovation, which is supported by Yorkshire Forward, brings together leading experts to support food businesses in their efforts to meet the demands of consumers and retailers by using their knowledge and transferring it into workable solutions to meet the specific needs of individual companies.

This project can facilitate needs at all levels of the ‘Innovation Escalator’, whether businesses are looking to take early steps in packaging or product innovation, or at the higher level of requiring collaboration for far-reaching research and development work for long-term projects.

Appetising Innovation gives companies access to a range of sources with updated skills, technologies and equipment. Any food and drink manufacturing business can benefit, with the focus on those in the Yorkshire and Humber region. The process will be carefully project managed by the experienced Appetising Innovation team.

Seminars, workshops and special reports, as well as access to innovation surgeries and a new packaging materials resource centre are all part of the solutions on offer through the initiative.

Led by Food Processing Faraday Partnership (FPFP), the project draws on the integrated experience of a consortium which, it is said, can offer expertise in food innovation and packaging developments. The four partners working alongside FPFP are Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Food Innovation, Leeds Metropolitan University, the Regional Food Group and Design Futures, a packaging innovation consultancy based at Sheffield Hallam.

Ian Blakemore, the regional manager of FPFP, who is leading the project, says Appetising Innovation has the expertise to offer bespoke solutions for any company looking to develop ideas for products and packaging in the food and drink industry.

“We can help small companies with focused solutions or larger companies looking for specialist R&D staff to supplement their own innovation teams for more sophisticated projects. The consortium members all understand the mechanics of businesses and have expertise in commercial applications and projects,” he said.

Sarah Knapper, research and development director of the Regional Food Group for Yorkshire & Humber, which supplies practical business solutions to keep companies in the fast-moving food and drink sector on top of the latest food technology, skills and commercial development, believes there are great opportunities for the food and drink sector to embrace innovative production techniques - and Appetizing Innovation offers it the perfect chance to do so.

Established in 2002 the Regional Food Group has recently received £4.1 million funding from Yorkshire Forward to develop and deliver more services for the sector in the Yorkshire and Humber region. It aims to improve the customer experience through innovation in products, standards and service, making it an ideal member of the Appetizing Innovation consortium.

Sarah Knapper said: “Food and drink is the biggest manufacturing industry in the UK but has suffered from a lack of long-term investment in research and development. Appetizing Innovation can provide experts from outside the manufacturing industry who bring a different perspective on innovation for food. This outside thinking can give food companies the inspiration and ideas they need to fulfil their potential.”

For packaging solutions Appetising Innovation says it can call on Design Futures, a consultancy which has worked with global companies, national retailers and packaging manufacturers as well as regional companies and brand owners.

Design Futures is a leader in the field and offers a valuable range of resources to address a wide range of packaging issues, from environmental concerns, to testing resilience during transportation, and designing packaging for greater standout and increased sales.

Commercial director, Gail Wyman, said: “Design Futures has an excellent ten year track record in packaging and product innovation. We have particular strength in putting together creative teams to overcome the unique challenges that each company faces in growing sales, creating distinctive consumer benefits, incorporating new technology, and managing material costs and waste. We have expertise in creating new concepts and incorporating materials research in innovation. We can also help to meet environmental objectives and consumer expectations by offering solutions for improving the performance and shelf life of packaging.”

To help transfer ideas from the drawing board to the factory floor, Appetizing Innovation also taps into the pool of industry knowledge available from the region’s renowned learning establishments.

Over 150 food companies have turned to Leeds Metropolitan University’s Food Research Group for assistance over the last five years. Its range of services, including NPD, market research and food testing, have also been utilised by the cook chill and cook freeze food sectors.

The University group manager Dr Tony Parsons said: “We offer a hands-on approach to help food companies fast-track their products to market.”

Meanwhile, Sheffield Hallam University provides the expertise in technical sustainability, including stimulating and managing short technology projects, as David Johnson, the university’s commercial director of its food and drink department, explained.

He said: “Our expertise can link products to health, environment, waste and packaging. We can suggest the best solutions for product development and manufacturing processes, as well as identify the skills and training required for these projects.”

Andrew Collinson from Food and Drink Sector Development at Yorkshire Forward said: “Without doubt there is great potential for food and drink businesses in the region to take advantage of the world class skills, research, knowledge and equipment on their doorstep. This initiative will help them compete successfully in the short term as well as further into the future.”

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